Hinterland, Week Nine: Have a Mary Christmas

Hinterland, Week Nine: Have a Mary Christmas

Remember back in October when I said I wanted to chill the heck out and enjoy November? It took most of the month, but it really did happen last week. Not surprisingly, it happened on its own terms after I had mostly forgotten about it, and long after I tried to make it happen myself.

(Isn’t that true about all of the things, all of the time?)

There were several factors that made last week so enjoyable, but one of the nicest parts was that it didn’t feel rushed. It usually feels like December arrives before the apple pie is done cooling on Thanksgiving, but the holidays had some extra space to breathe last week. It felt like a bonus week. And it all came to an abrupt end when the clock struck Sunday and I started to feel the stress of December knocking at my door, waiting to be acknowledged.

Prior to answering the knock at the door, I woke up early and sat by our Christmas tree. I lit a pine scented candle, the kind with a crackling wick that makes you feel like it’s winter in Norway or Sweden or one of those trendy Hygge places. In one of the weirdest and best inventions of our time, I turned the tv into a roaring fire with instrumental Christmas music in the background. (Every time I turn this on, I feel like Sandra Bullock in the opening scene of The Proposal and question what kind of life I’m living.)

It was all going so well. And then I started to think.

There are gifts to be bought and gifts to be made! There are people to see and parties to attend! There is an internal list of Christmas experiences to have and cookies to bake and feelings to feel by December 25th!

In the blink of an eye I turned into my mom, who can always be counted on to assess any situation and conclude, “I just don’t think we’ll have enough time!” It never fails to ignite my competitive side, and so I spring into an impassioned rebuttal: “OF COURSE we have enough time. Just watch!” And usually—not always, but usually—we end up having enough time after all.

But if you let DNA simmer for long enough, eventually the traits that live in your bloodstream will start to peek through the soil like little seedlings. This is probably why, even though it’s just barely December, I already feel like I’m being crushed by the world’s largest yule log. There’s this fear that time will evaporate like water on a hot day, that what was tangible just a minute ago will be hit by the heat of the sun and disappear before my very eyes. It feels like we just won’t have enough time.

You know what was nice about last week? There was enough time. In retrospect, there was the same amount of time, the same amount of work, the same amount of activities as any other week. The difference was in how I perceived it. Last week, everything felt like a gift of extra time. Everything felt a little bit special. It was kind of like a snow day, an extra bit of time to savor.

Mary Oliver’s instructions for living a life are to pay attention, be astonished, and tell about it. And last week, I felt like I was paying close attention. The 208347302847 pictures I took are evidence to that fact.

I paid close attention to all of the remaining leaves going out in style, leaving tree branches bare but filling the sidewalk with vibrant colors. I was paying enough attention to find an unexpected heart in the flour at the cafe, to fully embrace the pure joy of sampling tomato basil soup with warm ciabatta bread topped with butter, to realize that working at the cafe makes everything past 6am feel like sleeping in, which is a gift. I stopped working to pay attention to Jenny turning Olive into the Grinch’s dog Max, subbing a skateboard for a sled. I paid attention to Olive sitting stoically on the plaid chair next to the dining room tree in what appears to be her Christmas Portrait. I paid attention to Christmas-tree-finding and popcorn-and-cranberry-stringing and apple-and-orange-slice-drying. I paid attention to breakfast the next morning underneath the tree with pumpkin waffles and Friday Night Lights.

There were so many wonderful moments—more than appear here, more than landed on my camera roll. And I wonder how many of them would have gone unnoticed if I wasn’t paying extra attention to a special week? I wonder what would happen if I could stop the “we won’t have enough time!” fear loop and trade it for the reality that paying attention makes the time we have enough?

And so if November’s goal was to chill the heck out, I think December’s goal is to have a Mary Christmas: to pay attention, to be astonished, and to tell about it.

P.S. Shauna Niequist has also taken Mary’s advice. I posted a quote from her book Cold Tangerines on Instagram earlier this week, and since it bears repeating I’ll just post it again here:

“I believe that this way of living, this focus on the present, the daily, the tangible, this intense concentration not on the news headlines but on the flowers growing in your own garden, the children growing in your own home, this way of living has the potential to open up the heavens, to yield a glittering handful of diamonds where a second ago there was coal. This way of living and noticing and building and crafting can crack through the movie sets and soundtracks that keep us waiting for our own life stories to begin, and set us free to observe the lives we have been creating all along without even realizing it.”

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